“Astroturf” Marketing: An Exposé Into The Dark World Of Social Media Swindlers, Scammers & Shams

Approximate read time: 7 minutes

Here is the 3 step process brands use to get manipulate Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to become popular…

Often I see two similar brands servicing similar geography’s on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, post similar content, at similar frequencies, yet one has been around for less time and has vastly more Fans or Followers.

Social Proof is powerful, Robert Caidini wrote about it in his 1984 book, Influence: people will do things that they see other people doing.

The thought process is, “this brand has a lot of Fans or Followers, therefore they much be an authority, credible, legitimate, deliver results, and most importantly trustworthy.”

It is the digital equivalent to being in a new city and patroning a restaurant with a line up and not the empty one next door: people are there and they see that see people are there.

It creates gravity to the brand and a self-perpetuating fly-wheel of customers.

I wanted to know how there could be such a discrepancy, often by ten-of-thousands of Fans or Followers within such a short period of time, so I decided to research how some brands get these numbers incredibly fast.

It’s a 3 step process and down the rabbit hole we go.

Step #1: Account Seeding

The first step is about sowing seeds.

Brands create a new Facebook Fan page (a throw-away which doesn’t jeopardise their existing legitimate Fan Page) or Twitter or Instagram account and populates it with fake Likes or Followers generated by a Bot (software that runs automated tasks over the Internet.)

This is usually around the 5000 Like or Follower mark – enough to make the page or account seem popular on its own.

Prior to this, a Bot has generated thousands of fake Facebook Personal Profiles or Twitter and Instagram account for the sole purpose of Liking Fan Pages and Following accounts.

The Bot then instructs each individual Profile to Like or Follower a requested Fan page or account.

Unlike Twitter and Instagram (where simply looking at Followers, photos and content can reveal foul play), on Facebook it’s almost impossible for an outsider to see if the Likes are real or not (although public facing analytics can indicate patterns.)

Without revealing names, there are a plethora of services on the web that offer Bot services for mere small change.

Pages and accounts are then retrospectively loaded with content, and commonly it’s ‘click-bait ’ content such as meme images, cute-cats, and other information to make it looks like an active, legitimate Fan page or account.

Another way to get the same result is attaining a Bot to create a Personal Profile with photos of an attractive person.

The Bot then sends friend requests to people of the opposite gender, then upon reaching the 5,000 person Friend limit, the brand manually convert the Profile to a Fan Page and all of these friends are converted to Likes and the process moves to the next step – accelerated growth.

Step #2: Accelerated Growth

Once the account is seeded, the next step is accelerated growth, where fake Likes and Followers help get real Likes and Followers.

Brands buys real Likes through the Facebook Ad platform, generally from large English speaking developing countries (like Egypt and Brazil), with related demographic targeting which is congruent to the click-bait content posted.

Many Facebook Advertisers do not target these countries or demographics and because they don’t get the same volume of ads served as more popular countries, there is an under saturation of ad content and residents are more likely to click due to the novelty factor.

The outcome is that, if the targeting and click-through rates are optimized, ad costs are considerably lower than developed countries and it is not unheard of that Likes (not clicks) cost less than USD $0.01 each.

While brands receive cheap Likes, they also gain organic likes due to the virality and share-ability of the posted click-bait content.

For less than USD $300, brands can build 100,000+ legitimate Fans very quickly.

Another way to get the same results is where brands buy an existing popular Facebook pages that are inactive or dormant from the current Page Admin.

On purchase, they change the content and name of the purchased Fan Page to the Page they already administer and use the existing Merge duplicate Pages feature, which allows 2 pages that are almost identical, administered by the same person to be merged into one.

All existing fans are merged besides duplicate ones, which is rare to none.

Step #3: The Bait & Switch

The next step is a bait and switch.

Brands retrospectively delete the click-bait content from the page and change name, vanity URL to their brand name.

It’s then “business as normal” and like nothing ever happened.

Fans hardly realize that they originally liked a different Page and rationalize that they must have clicked Like on this brand page at some point in the past, which reduces un-Liking.

Of course the Fans of this Page are untargeted, but brands understand this.

They are not interested in selling to 100,000 untargeted Fan; it’s the social proof they want so they can influence real prospects who find them organically.

So in 3 easy steps, this is one way brands get a lot of fans really quickly when others plod long making no traction.

You can get 21 printed lead generating Process Maps for free, here.

And if you’re serious about marketing and selling more, the logical next step is to contact me to help you do it yourself, have me do it with you, or have it all done for you.

This may be the momentum you need to get great marketing and sales results.

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